Steps in Determining the Demands of Target Environments

Steps in Determining the Demands of Target Environments

1. Determine the target environments where students will have opportunities for social interaction.

2. Interview teachers and other adults who supervise students in those environments.

3. Conduct ecological assessments in those environments. As part of each ecological assessment, answer these questions:

· What activities occur within this environment?

· How are these activities structured?

· What types of interactions are directed to students from teachers or other adults in the environment?

· What is the nature of peer interactions?

4. Conduct direct observations of typically developing peers in those environments.

· Conduct anecdotal reports.

· Identify specific social behaviors exhibited by peers.

· Measure the most critical behaviors using event recording or duration recording.

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The second step is to interview teachers and other adults who supervise those environments. Interview questions posed to these adults should focus on the type of social activities that occur (large or small groups of students, structured or unstructured, etc.), the nature of social interactions during those activities (informal or following specific rules or procedures, fixed groups versus fluid groups in which students come and go, etc.), and the types of social skills needed for success in those activities. The interviews should elicit the adults’ opinions about the social demands of those environments and activities.

The third step is to conduct an ecological assessment that is designed based on the information obtained from your interviews. This process will result in an inventory of socialization demands, as well as skills needed for communication, play, work, self-determination, and so forth. For this ecological question, we recommend answering the following four questions:

1. What activities occur within this environment? For example, activities in the cafeteria might include waiting in line, getting food, moving to a table, eating, disposing of trash, and then exiting the cafeteria.

2. How are these activities structured? Activities may be teacher directed (e.g., small-group instruction or a teacher-led game); structured, but not teacher directed (e.g., peer tutoring or cooperative learning activities, lunch, bus rides); or unstructured (e.g., free time, passing in hall between classes, recess, break time at work). Each type of structure may require social skills with a different nuance. For example, delivering an appropriate social greeting may be an important skill across many environments, but the form of that greeting (e.g., “Hello, how are you?” or “Hey, man! What’s up?) will likely depend on whether or not the environment is, for example, a formal work setting or a meeting with friends.

3. What types of interactions are directed to students from teachers or other adults in the environment? For example, do adults mostly give directives that require no response or directives that require a response? Or do they initiate social conversation with children in the area (e.g., a cafeteria monitor asking a student what she did over the weekend)?

4. What is the nature of peer interactions? This question addresses the important issue of selecting socially valid skills to teach. For example, in the cafeteria, students with autism will probably not only need to learn to talk to peers but also may find it beneficial to be familiar with popular TV, YouTube, video game, and music references. Elementary students may talk about their latest Minecraft™ world or a ROBLOX™ game they played. Secondary students may talk about texts they have received or sent, social media, or upcoming extracurricular activities. On the other hand, playground interactions may require a completely different set of skills, such as initiating a request to participate in an activity or share equipment, giving and following directions during a game, and talking to one another.

The last step in determining the social demands of target environments is to conduct direct observations of typically developing same-age peers in those environments as they engage in target activities. The behavior observation methods described in Chapters 2 and 3 can be used for this purpose. For example, if the target environment is center time in a general education kindergarten class, then you might first observe using A-B-C recording during center time. The A-B-C record will probably help you then generate informal ecological assessment questions to consider about the specific environment in which you collected that data (e.g., kindergarten class) and related subenvironments (dress-up center, sand table center, blocks center, etc.) and activities (stacking blocks, sharing sand tools, etc.). In addition, from information gathered in the A-B-C report, you could extrapolate specific social behaviors that are likely to be exhibited by the target group (joint attention to activities, asking for blocks, taking turns, laughing at silly dress-up combinations, etc.).

Next, you could use event recording (or duration recording as appropriate) to determine at what rate certain skills are demonstrated or for how long. For example, you might measure the average rate at which students initiate verbal interactions with one another or the average duration of a conversational exchange. This information will help teachers establish valid target skills and criteria.

Information gathered through informal ecological assessment will constitute the framework for skills needed by a given student to facilitate full participation in social contexts. This information will help in the curriculum-development process described in Chapter 4 . For example, as you will recall from Chapter 4 ( Table 4.3 ), the first step in the curriculum-development process is to establish goals. The following are sample goals for socialization.

· Long-term goal: The student will live with a roommate without the need for check-ins from support staff or family more than once per week.

· Intermediate goals:

The student will engage in cooperative cooking and cleaning activities (e.g., making lunch, tidying the living room).

The student will initiate conversations with others.

· Short-term goals:

The student will initiate questions directed to peers and teachers.

The student will share supplies during a cooperative activity.

The student will ask for supplies as needed.

The student will exhibit joint attention during an activity with an adult or peer (e.g., while playing a multiplayer video game).

Teachers will need to task analyze target skills to facilitate instruction. For example, one of the skills identified as important to success in the cafeteria might be “responding to and talking with a peer who initiates.” This general skill could be task analyzed into the following steps:

· Look at the person who spoke.

· Think about what he or she said.

· Respond appropriately (e.g., answer question or make a comment on the same topic).

· Listen for peer to respond.

· Repeat as appropriate.

Understanding the discrete steps involved in a complex skill such as “talking to a peer” will help you better identify what needs to be taught, prompted, or reinforced (Ledbetter-Cho et al., 2015).

Once the requisite skills have been identified, the next step is determining the student’s level of proficiency in those skills. Skills that the student lacks become targets for instruction. Skills that are present but weak need to be strengthened through either increased opportunities for practice or stronger reinforcement for exhibiting the skills.

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